Conventional accounts of federalism and administrative law generally assume that the federal government is highly centralized in Washington, D.C. Judges, politicians, and academic commentators often speak of “bureaucrats in Washington,” and they often contrast the poor governance supposedly provided by those bureaucrats with more responsive, innovative, and democratically legitimate governance from states and municipalities. Beyond pejorative rhetoric, assumptions about federal centralization also lead to a variety of widely accepted policy prescriptions.
This Article questions that conventional wisdom. Using a detailed study of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ regulatory program, it demonstrates that geographic decentralization within the federal government is a real and important phenomenon, with implications cutting across the fields of federalism and administrative law. Federal decentralization undercuts conventional wisdom about the relative advantages and disadvantages of state (or local) and federal governance. It offers nuance to theories explaining how a federalist system actually functions. And it offers new possibilities for policy reforms designed to promote innovative, responsive governance.